McDojo Effect in the World of BJJ

Are we living in the golden age of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at this very moment? It wasn’t that long ago when you had to drive for 1 or 2 hours to find a BJJ school. Now it seems like there are 1 or 2 schools in every town.  If you are a Jiu Jitsu practitioner, this recent explosion of places to train should be a good thing—shouldn’t it?

The reality is that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is “big business” and the goal of any business should be to make money.  I am extremely confident that the vast majority of schools have been able to walk-the-line between business and training.  However, there are a few schools that don’t really care about spreading the art of BJJ and just want your money; enter the “McDojo”.

For a long time, it was inconceivable that a BJJ school could become a McDojo, but the times have changed.

The Jiu Jitsu Explosion

In 1978 Rorion Gracie left his home country of Brazil and headed to America.  His mission: spread the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  While he did begin to spread BJJ across California, it wasn’t until the UFC made its debut in 1993, that people across the world began to take notice.

UFC 1 is where Royce Gracie would run through a gantlet of larger fighters and use only Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to become champion. This was the beginning of the Jiu Jitsu explosion that would start a ripple effect across the world.

People all over the world wanted to learn the art, but there were still very few places to train at this time.  Those few that were able to travel or had a place to train in their area began to branch out and start affiliate schools of their own.  This trend has continued for over 20 years and now here we are; a BJJ school in almost every town.

This is no different than what took place with karate in the 1970’s and 1980’s, kickboxing in the 90’s.  Karate schools may have been the first to get coined “McDojo” after its worldwide explosion.  Karate schools capitalized when someone named Bruce Lee captivated the world and everyone wanted to learn the art; sound familiar?

The McDojo?

A McDojo is a school where the owner/instructor doesn’t particularly care if you become proficient at your respective martial art.  They don’t care if you put in the time on the mat.  They certainly don’t care if you ever become skilled in your art—they want your money.

You may also hear a McDojo referred to as a “belt factory”.  This is due to the extremely fast rate that they will promote you.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu takes years to get from belt-to-belt and close to a decade to earn a black belt.

This is not a good way to keep people coming back to class.  We live in a society of instant gratification and a 10-year journey is far from instant.  On the other hand, if you promote someone every few months; that will keep them coming back to spend more money.

The McDojo Effect

The McDojo effect in the world of BJJ is more than a few rotten apples trying to grab a quick buck.  It can have some serious and detrimental effects.

The most obvious negative effect from the McDojo is the dishonest business practices that are involved.  You’re paying these owner/instructors to learn high-level BJJ.  In a McDojo you are simply not getting what you are paying for.  You are essentially paying for a place to hang out and get some cool belts.

The most dangerous effect of the Mcdojo is the false sense of skill that you will develop.  In my personal opinion, this is the worst aspect of these schools.

By the time you receive a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you should legitimately know how to defend yourself in a real-life altercation.  Unfortunately, if you simply bought your purple belt you will only “think” you can defend yourself.

This false belief in your skills can get you seriously injured, or even worse when the time comes to defend yourself.  A BJJ practitioner should be confident in their skills due to countless hours of training and earning their rank.

Another big area of concern with the McDojo effect in BJJ is the impression that it will leave with beginners.  I think that the average person is inherently smart and will be able to detect that something doesn’t seem right if the step into a McDojo.

How will this negative experience make them feel about continuing to train or referring others to join them?  If this was the first BJJ school that they visited, they may draw the misconception that all BJJ schools are like this.

This may not be a big concern for many practitioners, but the beginning of the BJJ explosion began because people wanted to learn BJJ and instructors wanted to spread the art.  Having schools that negatively reflect Jiu Jitsu is in direct contrast to the original goal of the movement.

Avoiding the McDojo 

If you are concerned that you are training at one of these dishonest schools or if you want to be sure to avoid them; there are several easy ways to detect a BJJ McDojo.

  1. An instructor tells you that you can get a black belt within a certain time frame before you become a member, probably a few years. Everyone is different and will progress at many different rates and a black belt will take more than a few years.
  2. The instructor doesn’t have an answer to seemingly simple questions and gets visibly annoyed.
  3. Interprets questions as challenges.
  4. The school is made up of 80% black belts. There should be many more lower belts than black belts.
  5. Students are getting promoted faster than you can learn their names.
  6. All the higher-belts have an obvious lack of skill.
  7. The instructor can’t remember their lineage. This is not good.
  8. Money, payment, contracts and other types of monetary topics are the root of every conversation and put on a pedestal.

The worldwide spread of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has been a great thing.  There’s nothing better than being able to train in your own town with your own friends.  It has benefited my own life tremendously over the last 10 years.

Unfortunately, the McDojo effect in the world of BJJ is real and it may be too late to stop.  There are some serious negative effects caused by these schools that may ruin the BJJ experience for others.  With a little research, you can avoid these schools and put these McDojo’s out of business.

This article was written by James Macferson. James Macferson is a BJJ blue belt, martial arts practitioner and a true health enthusiast. He mostly writes for Budomate Magazine and JabCross Blog, but always glad to share his knowledge and ideas with the Jiu Jitsu community anywhere anytime.

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